Dark Sunrise. Who’s Ya Daddy. Dream Catcher. High Maintenance. Snaggletooth. Racy Madame. No, these aren’t the names of the latest cannabis strains, but just some of the balloons that will be at the Telluride Balloon Festival this weekend.
The festival will celebrate its 36th year with more balloons than ever, reported festival director Marilyn Branch.
“This year we have 20 balloons,” Branch said. “And we contribute a unique, huge color experience to the town.”
Each year, the festival brings balloons from all over the country including New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California and Colorado. Ballooning isn’t just hot air and pretty colors, though. There is a complex science behind balloon flight. Telluride’s festival takes a large team of specialists, balloon pilots and chase crews to make the magic happen.
“Telluride is very unique for balloon flying,” said Peter Procopio, balloon meister for the festival.
Given the narrow, mountainous landscape, Procopio and Branch carefully select balloons and pilots based on skill level and dedication.
“We look to have experienced pilots who demonstrate an ability to follow rules and who want to help make the event as special as we feel it is, and put the interest of the town and the event above their own,” Procopio said.
More than anything, the festival aims at providing a special experience to people who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to explore hot air ballooning.
“The thrill of flying, floating in the air, is a big thing for all of us, but for most of us the second thing is sharing it with others,” Procopio said.
Saturday and Sunday at 6 a.m. the balloons will inflate in Town Park and prepare to take flight, depending on the weather. If conditions are favorable, the balloons will take off one by one and travel west along the valley.
No need to worry if the crazy mountain weather prohibits flight. The balloon pilots still offer an incredible experience to those who show up early.
“Some of the balloons will stay inflated on the field and we will give tethered rides for anybody that’s in line,” Branch said.
Telluride High School’s Breast Cancer Awareness Club will sell Baked in Telluride coffee and donuts on the field for the early risers as well.
Saturday evening at sunset, the balloons will illuminate Colorado Avenue in a spectacular display of color and light at the Main Street Glo, sponsored by U.S. Bank.
“I have many, many people stop me on the street during the Glo and say it is their favorite festival of the year,” Branch said.
Branch explained that the Glo is a great opportunity for people to get an up-close experience with the balloons and pilots.
“A lot of the pilots will let kids climb into the baskets so mom and dad can take a picture of them with the balloon glowing,” Branch added.
Everyone in town seems to know about the Glo on Saturday night and the ascent on Saturday and Sunday morning, but the festival offers an educational element to the community as well.
Friday morning, fifth-graders who register at the Telluride Intermediate School will have the opportunity to learn the step-by-step process of getting a balloon unpacked, put together, inflated, flying in the air, then brought back down, taken apart and packed up again.
“As long as it is not windy, the kids hold the rope to the balloon, they hold onto the crown of the balloon, they turn the fan on, and they actively participate in inflating the balloon and getting it to stand up,” Branch explained.
In addition to learning the ins and outs of hot air ballooning, the students will get to explore the inside of the balloon baskets, take pictures and learn first-hand from the balloon pilots.
On Saturday, the festival will also hold a balloon photography workshop lead by official balloon photographer Paul D deBerjeois. Branch said that deBerjeois photographs balloons all around the country and has received national attention for his balloon shooting skills.
“He takes people through basic photography but specific to ballooning,” Branch said.
More importantly, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to attend the workshop, as deBerjeois will offer one-on-one photography insights to people with anything from a cellphone camera to professional camera gear.
“I learn something new every single year,” Branch added.
To participate in the photography workshop, attendees just need to show up; no registration or prior planning is necessary. Last year, Branch said the workshop had about 25 participants. The workshop takes place at Christ Presbyterian Church.
It may be hard to believe, but every element of the festival is free to the public, including the workshops.
“It’s Telluride’s only completely free festival,” Branch said.
The Balloon Festival is possible through support from the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events, and contributions from Alpine and U.S. Bank, she added.
Those interested can volunteer at the field in Town Park on Saturday and Sunday morning for an opportunity to help the pilots, chase balloons and possibly take a ride.
“A number of the pilots need local crew people to help,” Branch said. “Those people help to put the balloons together on the field and inflate them, and then they are part of the chase crew.”